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GMO Labeling - Feels Like This Might Actually Happen

Posted by Helen Lentze - December 1, 2012

It is surprising, but I often get a blank stare when I ask friends and family if they know what Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are.  An estimated 60-70% of all processed foods in the US are likely to contain at least some GMOs – so practically everyone eats them, probably even on a daily basis.  In a nutshell, GMOs are plant cells, whose DNA has been changed at the molecular level in ways that do not occur in nature. The goal of this manipulation is to exhibit traits such as cold tolerance or herbicide resistance.  Experts and consumer groups who oppose GMOs have a myriad of opinions about the potential implications of GMOs on our health and the environment and what should be done about it. There is one common denominator, however, that everyone agrees on:  At least we should know if GMOs are in our food – so, put them on the label.

There are two very different, but equally successful initiatives that have recently mobilized to achieve just that: The Just Label It Campaign and the 2012 Ballot Initiative Campaign to Label GMOs in California. ‘Just Label It’ is a national effort, backed by substantial funding, advised by a leading public-interest communications firm, and led by a very seasoned campaign director. In October, they submitted a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) demanding labeling of GMOs.  More than 400 likeminded organizations and companies have partnered with the campaign and are reaching out to their constituents and customers with the goal of collecting one million comments to the FDA in support of the petition. As of November 1, 2011, more than 300,000 comments had already been received.

The 2012 Ballot Initiative Campaign to Label GMOs in California is a grassroots movement, conceived by Pamm Larry, who is not only a self-taught campaigner, but a mother, grandmother, midwife and business person.  Pamm has been travelling all over California and has, through sheer perseverance and willpower, succeeded in recruiting 100 leaders who are now educating and organizing in 60 communities on behalf of the campaign. The text for the initiative is already with the Attorney General’s office in Sacramento and the collection of the necessary 555,000 signatures will start in early January.  I recently caught Pamm on her cell phone while she was driving somewhere in Mendocino County. When I asked her how she was doing, she said: “Well, sometimes I am tired - but I am tired, because it is working!” Nevertheless, both campaigns need all the support they can get.

I am lucky to work for a company that allows me to spend a significant amount of time working towards its mission of protecting small family farms and sustainable dairy production. Straus Family Creamery is not only a pioneer in the organic, but also in the non-GMO movement. It became the first organic dairy and creamery west of the Mississippi River in 1994 and the first Non-GMO Project Verified dairy in the nation in 2010. Six years ago, when Albert Straus, founder and President, started testing the purchased organic feeds for his cows, he found that there was contamination from GMOs.  It took years, lots of money and a great deal of persistence to implement the company‘s internal non-GMO testing system, but it has succeeded. Albert wanted to make absolutely sure that his milk and dairy products remained 100% pure and organic. When the Non-GMO Project emerged in 2010, he took it to the next level and became the first dairy to be verified.

When Albert learned about the Right2Know March from New York City to the White House in October to demand labeling of GMOs, he invited me to go. After only three weeks on the job, I packed my backpack and off we went to join in for the final two days of the march. The variety of people we met while walking some eight to ten miles a day through Washington DC’s suburbs was fascinating. CEOs and senior executives of natural-foods companies were walking side by side with farmers, students, environmental and community activists and just random people who decided to join on the spot. With such diversity there is always a danger that the message becomes a bit fuzzy, but that didn’t happen. What made this march, and makes the movement as a whole, so powerful is the fact that the message is incredibly clear and tangible – put GMOs on the label.

The two campaigns that Straus Family Creamery strongly supports are well underway and they are very easy to support. Two simple actions are needed:  a signature on the 2012 California Ballot Initiative; and an online comment in support of the petition to the FDA. Momentum gained during the march is not lost at all, quite to the contrary, it continues to grow. But it’s not only the movement that is growing, it is also the feeling that, yes, this is actually going to happen.

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